The Tale of One-Eyed Qüāgälōr

In the days of Ēlf-King Hīănthĕlŭs’s grandfather, Kriskrisālŭs the Clairvoyant, Nĕslōr—a great three-headed Sea Serpent—terrorized the Marēnēăn Ocean. From the Pearl Ports at Ōpĕr to the far off Eastern Shores, from the Southern Ocean to the Northeastern Sea, no ship was safe from the wicked Low Drăgōn—not humble fisherman’s skiff nor regal king’s tall ship, proud merchant’s cutter nor bloodthirsty pirate’s galleon. Only One-Eyed Qüāgälōr, a lowly golden-earringed pirate, dared to defy the Scourge of the Deep. Considered by some to have been nothing more than a scurvy seadog who eventually danced a lonely jig at the end of a short rope, Qüāgälōr was, nevertheless, revered to the present day by mariners of every ilk as the greatest seaman ever to have fared out upon the wild and open oceans of Ĭndrēl; for he, alone of all who have plied the wide sea roads and braved their unforgiving deeps, successfully challenged the ancient Three-headed Wȳrm of the High Seas.

Upon a day, a great storm came up out of the Landless South. The blow raged on the Southerland Main, in frothing waves and howling winds, blasting the exposed southern shores of Ĭndrēl with an incessant and devastating surge. It turned the ebb tides back upon themselves and mounted up the swells until they rolled as high as hills. But to the pirate ship Wave Wolf, caught in the powerful gale, more ominous than the tumbling waves, more fearful than the furious storm, came the dreaded roar of the mighty Sea Serpent, Nĕslōr. At her bellow, even the ship’s captain—a lame old seadog by the name of Malice MēGräg—pressed his hands to his ears and shook like the straining timbers of his rolling galleon. And at first sight of the approaching Wȳrm’s slimy oscillating humps slithering through the white-capped waters, the first mate’s quivering knees went as weak as jellyfish tendrils; and he dropped his brass spyglass to the rolling decks and wailed and moaned in mortal terror.

The first time great Nĕslōr struck Wave Wolf’s sturdy hull, her foremast and her mizzen shivered from their steps unto their topgallants, splintering to kindling at her shrouds. Snapping cables cut Men in half. Falling spars crushed sailors like seashells underfoot. The tangle of broken ratlines pulled them under as halyards, chainplates, and standing rigging were torn away and sank beneath the white-capped waves. Some among the crew threw themselves into the boiling sea foam, in mad terror; others ran the length of the ship, from stem to stern and back again, crying: “We shall be dashed to bits and all devoured alive!”

The Wave Wolf’s officers and crew, alike, from the ship’s master right on down to her cabin boy, grew pale at the sight of the undulating Sea Serpent circling ’round and ’round about the waterline, thrashing the waves with her great spiny tail and leaping out of the water to snatch Men, screaming, from the rigging, in her venomous maws. Boarding-pikes and barbed harpoons were hurled at the slimy Serpent’s seaweed-maned heads. Lead ballasts and iron anchors were cast down upon her scaly green back. But little harm did any of these do against the might of a Low Drăgōn in her watery element.

Now in those days, it was held by common sea-lore that if all the gold onboard a ship were thrown over the gunwales to an attacking Wȳrm, in her blind greed the serpent would hungrily swallow it down; and if a ship carried sufficient golden and silvery cargo (or plunder, as the case may be) in her holds, why then, it followed that the Sea Wȳrm might be fed enough bright ingots and jewelry and tableware to drag her down to the ocean’s floor, before she could reduce the vessel to drifting planks and poles. So, Wave Wolf’s crooked-legged captain ordered that all her lockers and chests of gold and treasure be brought on deck and poured into the hungry Sea Serpent’s yowling gullets. Every coin and cup, every lamp and locket, every plate and platter, goblet and grail, rhytonta and bracelet and collar & badge of office from their precious hoard was to be cast into the wide ocean…

And true to lore, the wet gold and silver was eagerly and all swallowed down by one or another of Nĕslōr’s three greedy heads.

Yet she continued to circle ’round and ’round the Wave Wolf, ramming into the ship’s timber ribs and lashing at the vessel’s twisted cables with her wickedly barbed tail.

In desperation, Malice MēGräg ordered his brigands to strip the very rings from their fingers and pull the bobs from their own ears, to take the golden chains from ’round about their necks and cast them all to the avaricious Serpent.

And this the superstitious seamen eagerly did, all except for One-Eyed Qüāgälōr, who had a plain golden earring in one lobe that he mightily fancied and with which he would not be parted. It was rather plain and of little worth, yet it had been given to him by a lovely quay-wench in Hōpshīr; and beyond reason, he cherished the spangle most dearly (for she was no more true to him than he to her, and he had an equally lovely wench in every port and pier in Ĭndrēl). Thus, without good reason or rhyme, this one small bit of gold, only, he defiantly refused to feed to the Low Drăgōn.

But when everything else had been given over to Nĕslōr, and still she had not sunk into the ocean’s depths, Qüāgälōr’s mates began to plead and to beg him to give up the worthless trinket and surrender it to the Scourge of the Deep. For they deemed that the Sea Serpent had not yet been sated, and Qüāgälōr’s bauble was the last bit of gold they had onboard—their only hope for weighing the Drăgōn down to her death. And though they knew in their hearts that one small earring would surely not now save their ship or lives, all seafaring Men are superstitious folk; and so, the pirates were bent on seeing the ritual applied to the letter of the lore, hoping beyond reason for salvation, in doing so.

Yet Qüāgälōr defiantly ignored their pleas and stubbornly refused to give up his precious trinket.

Lightning flashed in the stormy skies above, but its thunder was drowned out by great Nĕslōr’s ceaseless roaring as she, too, demanded that the earring be yielded up to her. Rain and wind lashed at the remaining rigging; but the waves that washed over the decks came not from the storm but from the Drăgōn’s thrashing tail. Then, Wave Wolf’s oaken rudder was ripped from her transom by the Sea Wȳrm, so that the ship no longer had steerage to keep her prow into the weather. Sailors were washed overboard as the wide galleon pitched and rolled, yawed and breeched, time and time again, in the high-mounting swells.

Cap’n MēGräg commanded Qüāgälōr, on penalty of keel-hauling, to throw the earring to Nĕslōr. Yet, Qüāgälōr stubbornly refused. The Captain then ordered all hands to set upon Qüāgälōr and strip from him his “precious treasure.”

When cutlasses were drawn and it came to hacking off hands and limbs, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr lost not a finger of his left hand, while seven of his fellow swabbies soon crouched clutching gushing wounds or lay a-swoon in a swath of red brine on the rolling wet decks. Their gory appendages, the defiant pirate threw to the bloodthirsty sea monster as he vowed never to give up his precious earring.

At length, the captain’s mates and all his crew rushed forth, as one, to lay hands upon the proud seafarer; and they overpowered him with their numbers. Crooked-legged MēGräg ripped the golden earring from its pierced lobe and cast it overboard, crying out: “Nĕslōr, foul wretch of the Deep! There ye have y’re gold and treasure! May it drag ye down to a tombstone of coral!”

Nĕslōr surged forth from the sea, her three heads snapping and fighting over the trinket, which bounced between them, from tooth and snout, until the central maw snapped it up and swallowed it down. Then, she laughed triumphantly, with all her horrible heads. The mocking chorus of malicious disdain pierced even Qüāgälōr’s enraged heart, so that he fell to his knees in terror and despair.

“We thank you each and all for your golden appetizers,” she taunted the Men of Wave Wolf. Then a second fin-eared head informed them: “Now shall we make our main course of the Man-beast who refused to give us our due.” “Throw him to us, ye scurvy scum, that we may drink his blood and gnash his bones to jelly!” the third black-pearl-eyed head demanded.

Qüāgälōr looked around and saw in the eyes of his shipmates that they, indeed, intended to do just as the Low Drăgōn demanded. So, leaping forward, he snatched Malice MēGräg’s cutlass from the captain’s trembling hands. Then, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr slipped the saber through the rope belt at his hip and leapt into the rigging of the last remaining pole—the lower two-thirds of the central mainmast. MēGräg feebly clutched after him but caught only sea spray and rain in his grasping hands. All three of Nĕslōr’s fierce heads shot forth and snapped at the climbing pirate’s heels. And all three missed him by a mermaid’s hair. In frustration, two of the terrible jowls turned to MēGräg and caught the gimpy captain up in their shark-like teeth. The Wȳrm’s third head fought with the other two for the prized morsel of the vessel’s master (lame and sinewy though he was) and tore old Malice MēGräg, screaming, limb from limb.

But that gave Qüāgälōr time to mount the ratlines and climb towards the `crow’s nest.

When Nĕslōr had divided and devoured the captain into three equal shares, she returned her interests to Qüāgälōr, who was, by then, far up in the rigging. “Leap down into our waiting mouths!” she bellowed. “We will have you next.” “Or have your whole ship in splinters!”

At those words, several of Qüāgälōr’s mates sprang to the ratlines or hauled themselves up the halyards to throw the defiant salt to the greedy Serpent, as she had demanded. But Qüāgälōr had the higher ground and held them off, saying, “Arrr! I would not slay a one more of ye, me salty brethren. Hearken unto me words! Nĕslōr intends to have us all, in the end. She only toys with us, turning loyal seamen against their officers and master against his mate, as she convinced us to so neatly hand all our booty over to her, without so much as a threat of resistance. See here how now she won’t even have to sift through the flotsam and wreckage of our ship for the Wave Wolf’s bounteous hoard of hard-won booty? Indeed, we helped her lose not one single golden regal to the depths of the Deep as the ship went down, where even she would not have been able to find or recover it all. Therefore, let us turn against her, me maties, as she has turned us against one another! Let us unite in defiance of her even-greater-than-our-own greed!”

And Qüāgälōr’s words swayed his fellow salts, so that they no longer tried to seize him and feed him to the colossal Sea Wȳrm.

However, his words of defiance and muster only served to enrage Nĕslōr all the more; and she began to undulate ’round about the ship, once more, faster and faster, so that a great whirlpool formed and foamed in the storm-tossed sea, and the mighty galleon spun upon her long keel like a child’s toy ship swirled in a rain barrel with a laundress’s dolly. Even sailors who had been born at sea grew sick at the whirling and churning as they clung to the shrouds like lowly landlubbers to steady their wobbly knees. Then, Nĕslōr beat upon the timbers of the hull again with her barbed tail and the caulking was fouled and the planking began to spring leaks from the bowsprit to the doghouse. “Stand fast, me brave maties! We’re no on the rocks yet!” Qüāgälōr cried encouragement to his wavering shipmates.

Then, Nĕslōr wrapped herself around the prow of the vessel and slithered half her loathsome bulk up upon the foredeck, so that the bow was submerged and Men slid and tumbled haplessly into her snapping jaws. The stench of her underbelly, as she began to spiral her way up the mainmast after her one-eyed nemesis, was enough to turn the last of the able-bodied seamen green, so that even the largest and proudest of them stepped to the rails and retched over the gunwales, some for the first time in their lives.

But moreover, their anger was now stirred up by the Sea Serpent’s trespass. It was their beloved ship that Nĕslōr had slimed aboard, and they did not intend to give her over to the Sea Drăgōn without a fight… not this time. For, all now realized that their foolish hopes of saving the Wave Wolf had only been a trick played upon them by the Wȳrm, herself; for she had swallowed enough gold to fill a king’s treasury, and it had neither sated her nor weighed her down in the water by one mark. And this realization made the sailors doubly angry. They drew their curved cutlasses and hacked at the scaly sides and underbelly of the Wȳrm, so that before Nĕslōr could reach the topgallant—and Qüāgälōr in the crow’s nest, above—she had to abandon her attack and retreat into the rolling water, once more.

The storm began to abate. Nĕslōr had been beaten back, and she disappeared below the calming waves. A great cheer went up among the sailors, calling their savior “Qüāgälōr the Brave, Nĕslōr’s Bane.”

But the Scourge of the Deep was, by no means, going to just let the Wave Wolf reef down her remaining sails and turn homeward under the power of her one standing mast. The sabers had only cut away some of the gelatinous slime that coated her underbelly and aided her movement though the cold water; they had not been able to penetrate the armor of her shimmering scales. No blade forged by Man or Ĕlf could have done that. Nĕslōr was damaged but not permanently wounded. Her under coating would soon grow back; but she vowed to have the crew one-by-one, for their insolence. But above all, she vowed to devour the Man-beast who had taunted her and then had united his mates against her. “We’ve changed our mind,” one head proclaimed. “We’ll save you for lastmost, ‘Qüāgälōr the Brave!’ ” another promised. “And your mates shall know, as we fillet them alive, that their most needless and grievous pain was but the due of your foolish defiance!”

Suddenly, Nĕslōr sprang from the water and snatched up the nearest seadog she could and began to strip the flesh from his limbs with her other two toothy jaws. The shellback screamed in agony, his skinless muscles twitching on the bared bone.

The crew looked at one another uncertainly. Then, one by one, they turned to look up at the “cause” of their cruel misery.

Qüāgälōr knew that he had to act fast or have his mates turn upon him, once more. “So, Foul Nĕslōr, ye fear me too grievously to have at me first?” he taunted the Sea Drăgōn.

Her three heads laughed in unison and then minced the bones of the sailor they were devouring, with their scissor-sharp glistening teeth. “We? Afraid of thee?” they mocked.

“Aye!” provoked her nemesis. “Afraid of One-Eyed Qüāgälōr. And right ye are to be so! For I’ll have ye and have me golden earring back, too. I’ll chase ye from ocean to ocean and over every salty sea-road, even ’round all Ĭndrēl…” He gazed about at the wrack of the Wave Wolf and added: “In a leaky rowboat, if need compels!”

His mates cheered him on. But what could Qüāgälōr really do against the mighty Sea Serpent, when legend seemed justified in claiming that no sword or weapon known to Man could pierce the Wȳrm’s scaly hide? And yet, he would not admit defeat, not to the vicious Drăgōn nor to his shipmates nor to himself.

Once more, Nĕslōr slammed against the creaking hull of the Wave Wolf; and Qüāgälōr nearly fell from the masthead as it shook at the terrible blow. But the one-eyed pirate clung to the ratlines and kept his footing sure. “May ye die on dry land, ye foul spawn of fetid sea scum!” he cursed.

“Come you down from there, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr;” “You may have your bauble back the-now…” “If you care to come looking for it.”

With those words, Nĕslōr opened her gaping maws tauntingly to the clearing sky, and Qüāgälōr saw his chance. Drawing the captain’s saber out, he leapt from the main topgallant’s crow’s nest and dove straight down into the Drăgōn’s central mouth, sword first. At the last moment, he turned the tip of the curved blade back and gave it a little twist, so that by the force of his long fall, the cutlass carved the Serpent’s innards in twain, from the roof of one mouth to the tip of her spiked tail, slicing down through her soft inner flesh and cartilage as he fell, corkscrewing all the way down through her entrails.

No blade had penetrated her scaly armor (as no blade could); and yet the great triumvirate Sea Serpent writhed and quaked, a screeching trio of agony. Bloody sea-foam frothed as she churned and twitched in her death pangs. Aboard the Wave Wolf, the jack-tars cheered wildly, when they realized what had happened. But then, they fell silent as Nĕslōr grew still and slowly began to sink below the lulling waves.

Inside the beast, Qüāgälōr realized his fate better than any. Beyond all hope, Nĕslōr was dead, killed without ever piercing her impregnable hide! But Qüāgälōr’s sharp blade had ruptured the bladder of gas that ran the length of the Wȳrm’s ribs, along her backbone, the buoyant means by which the Sea Serpent had been able to swallow a hill of golden treasure and not be dragged down into the Deeps. Now that the bladder had been punctured, Nĕslōr’s gold-filled carcass began to plummet towards the bottom of the Marēnēăn Ocean; and Qüāgälōr was trapped in the belly of the sinking behemoth. He could hardly move. He could not see or breathe. He could only feel the pressure of the ocean depths beginning to press in upon him. He knew that even from the inside, there was no way he could cut through the Wȳrm’s scaly hide and escape her body; so he let go of the cutlass and began to crawl and squirm and worm his way back through her ruptured guts and golden feast, towards the distant mouth in through which he had come.

Poisonous bile and venomous blood ate at his clothing and hair and skin. But he somehow managed to work his way back to the Serpent’s mouth, where he emerged into the salty sea, so deep under water, he could hardly tell in which direction the surface lay. He had run out of breath long ago, and air and hope were far beyond his reach, now. He had only fought to escape the Sea Serpent’s innards to avoid an eon of interment in her rotting carcass, at the icy bottom of the big blue; there was no way he could also swim to the distant surface. At least, however, he thought, I’ll not die in the Wȳrm’s foul gullet.

Without hope or expectation, he began to slowly swim towards the dim water above him. But he was too far submerged. He knew that at the start. But he struggled on, regardless. He would never make it to the life-giving air above; he could only hope, now, to at best make it far enough to escape the eternal darkness of the deeps, before he died.

Slowly, everything went black; and One-Eyed Qüāgälōr smiled to himself to know that he had died at sea, which is where every true salt wishes to have his bones laid to rest, when his life’s voyage comes to an end.

Yet, verily, One-Eyed Qüāgälōr did not die that day. He did not drown in the deep blue sea, though he lost consciousness a fifty-fathoms down. For a pod of nearby dolphins, happy to see the Sea Serpent slain, had followed Nĕslōr, and the pirate inside her, down into the murky Deeps.

Qüāgälōr came to, his ears bursting as he neared the surface. He erupted from the water “riding aback Vāndära—King of the Dolphins,” as the old shanteys told the tale, in after years. In truth, of course, he was scarcely alive, barely conscious, and badly burned from head to toe, by the Drăgōn’s acid innards; but he was alive. And the Sea Serpent was dead.

The whiskers on One-Eyed Qüāgälōr’s face, his eyebrows, and the locks on his head never grew back. Scars covered his skin, from pate to sole, so that for the rest of his life he was the palest sailor ever to fare upon the raging sea roads. And he never saw his precious earring more. Nor did he ever see, in after years, the lovely wench who had given it to him. But he was captained by his mates and served as master of the pirate ship Wave Wolf II, to the end of his days (which they say only came many and many a year later). Some sea songs tell how the One-Eyed Sea Lord died a very rich and a very happy salt, while others say he died without a copper regal to his name, of a “long stroll on a short plank.” But this here bard heard tell how the King of the Dolphins came to gather Qüāgälōr home, when his leagues were numberèd, and Vāndära carried him off to that farthest shore where all the wenches are lovely, gold dust beaches are washed by ever-gentle waves, and grog flows from springs in the ground.

The End

The story of Mother Fīlänlāa and Father Ādŏn—excerpted from Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes

In the deepness of days, when Low Dwärf King Kagär Khäz­rrōgan was slain and his tot, Rägnär the Rich, surrendered up BRĪM­STŌN­FHĔLDS to the Vōlcănēăns, there dwelt, in the Low Realms, a solitary Dwärf hight Ādŏn, tot of Ādürn the Bitter Foe.

That was in the early days of the Drăgōn Wars; and, with the fall of BRĪM­STŌN­FHĔLDS, Ādŏn fled south, thinking to come to FHĔLHDS­FHÄR and, there, to aid the Low Dwär­ves of the RRŌT Mountains.

But lo! When he came to the southern Realm, he found that the underburgs of FHÄR­GHŌ­RRÄTH and FHĔLHDSRÄND had already been overrun by the Drăgōn Lords and the inhabitants of those great cities, also enslaved.

Therefore, Ādŏn Axe-Wielder turned north, to fight as a rebel in the wilderness; for he would, in no wise, bow down before Tăm Tōrra and the Miser King, Thōrn­lānkĕn.

Many long and lonely years, Ādŏn struggled against the Drăgōn Lords’ unjust oppression, in this way, and kept to a solitary life of wayfaring alone and abroad (though, at whiles, he did fight at the sides of the exiled Ĕlf-king, Qüĭn­sōn­ē­sē­ŭs, and his son, Fĕrimŭs The Fair). From time to time, Ādŏn would harry the foe with acts of sabotage or by single-handedly destroying an outlying company of Vōlcănēăns. But most oft, Ādŏn lived the solitary life of a lone outlaw and a highwayman, verily, spending many of his latter middle years as an outcast and a brigand.

And thus, Ādŏn remained, ever, a thorn in the sides of the Dră­gōn Lords and of Măt Arrōt; for neither they nor she could ever catch or kill him, as he traveled alone and secreted in the thickest regions of Lē Mĭth­tĭm­brā­lōrnē—the Hidden Wood.

Now, in his elder years, Ādŏn grew ever more over-proud and arrogant of his battle-prowess; for he and his dreaded battleaxe had brought many great victories to his comrades, ere STŌN­GHŌR­RÄTH and the other Low Realms had fallen to the Miser King, and more, still, as he had continued to fight alongside the Ĕlves.

Moreover, Ādŏn—alone among Dwärves or Ĕlves had faced and had done harm to Măt Arrōt the Black, the most ancient and dreadful of all dire Dră­gōns. Furthermore, he had successfully campaigned much, in the early battles that led up to the First Dră­gōn War, leading, for many long years, with DRĂKÜS GRĂKÜS—the Dră­gōn-Biter—in his worthy hand.

 

#

 

Now, when Ādŏn’s beard had grown white, throughout, with a great count of years and his limbs ached with the stiffness of advancing age, word came to him that his former rival, Low King Rägnär, was dead and that The King’s tot, Thēzēon, was then governor of the Low Realms (under the Drăgōn Lords). Therefore, Ādŏn secreted his great axe in a cave, and put on disguise and betook himself to FHĔLHDS­FHÄR going, first, to FHÄR­GHŌR­RÄTH—greatest of the Low Dwär­văn underburgs—there, to seek out a wife to bear him a tot of his own, even if it be that they needs live together under the dictatorship of the Vōlcănēăns. For, he did not wish to see his proud lineage pass utterly out of the Annals of Time.

However, proud Ādŏn found no Dwärf spinster nor even Dwärf lass to his satisfaction, in all that vast ÜNZBHŌRRG. Nor, even, could he find a bride worthy of his eye in the great nearby submetropolis of FHĔLHDSRÄND. Yea, verily, no Low Dwärf maiden, in all that Realm Under the Mountain, was to his liking; therefore, he traveled, next, unto the Eastern Fōrg­ēng Mountains and came to Thēzēon’s domain—the first Low Realm of BRĪM­STŌN­FHĔLDS—marching with a company of Dwär­văn miner-slaves, who were being transferred thither.

Yet, neither, there, could he find a suitable Low Dwärf to be his mate, though he knew he could have had the pick of the highest-born Dwärf lasses in Thēzēon’s “court,” if he but revealed himself for who he truly was. Yet, none would do, for him; for lo! he now deemed himself too noble to take to wife a base “slave to Drăgōns.” (Yea! For, though he lived as a miner-thrall and labored daily under the whip, no differently from his fellow “base slaves,” he considered himself to be a free Dwärf, “sojourning in disguise.”)

All this was owing to his great arrogance and to his many years abroad, when Ādŏn had seen the surpassing beauty of the Ĕlf-maidens of the East, with whom he had become enchanted. Hence, he found that no Dwärf lassie, no matter how lovely nor how well-bred, might hope to compare to the beauty of the Fair Folk.

Thus, for some lonesome years more, he toiled anonymously in the mines and suffered himself to be taken for a “coward” and a “fool.” And, as he labored, he brooded amidst the fleeting dreams of his youth, deep within the cold dark halls of NHŌN­LHĒ­GHŌR­RÄTH; until, at length, he resolved to escape from thralldom, once more, and to venture forth into the wide world for to find himself, if he might, an Ĕlvăn wife.

And, lo and behold! Escape he did, with the aid of Thēzēon and of his sometime comrade, King Qüĭn­sōn­ē­sē­ŭs, who was still at large, in Lē Mĭth­tĭm­brā­lōrnē. (That tale shall not be taken up, here; but it was a daring deed; and freedom, for Ādŏn Axe-Wielder, was hard-won, a third time.)

 

#

 

Now, it came to pass that one day, while wandering alone in the Hidden Wood, Ādŏn chanced to spy a strange Drīăd damsel. She was named Fīlän­lāa (which is Silverstar, in the Wood Ĕlvĭsh Tongue), daughter of Fīlän­lānēō, First-Born, and Sĭlvālōralān, First-Born.

Of all the Drīăd to have graced the face of Ĭndrēl, she was both the loveliest, by far, and the most grotesque (to some), owing to the uniqueness of her complexion and the hue of tresses. For, her skin was pale and flushed, unlike her chestnut-skinned kinsfolk; and her long curly locks, which fell to her heels, were flame-red.

And lo! It was for these very uniquenesses that she was shunned as a mate, by her fellow Drīăd, who found her pink complexion and ruby-red hair anathema to them.

But, to Ādŏn the Low Dwärf, Fīlän­lāa was the most lovely creature he had ever gazed upon.

And that fateful day, Fīlän­lāa chanced to be alone, in the Wood, gathering wild berries; and when he espied her, Ādŏn fell instantly into a mad and imprudent fervor of adoration for her. Indeed, he grew crazed with a sudden passion and wantonness; and he took her captive, by force, and spirited her away to a secret cave, known only to him, and in the which he had been wont to hide when he was formerly an outlaw in those lands.

Thus, he kept the daughter of Fīlän­lānēō, First-Born, prisoner and made the cavern, by force, their eternal home, putting a door of iron at its entrance, the secret release to which he kept from her.

 

#

 

At first, Fīlänlāa was wroth with her abductor and hated him for having captived her and kept her, against her will, from her kith and from her kin. And a great hatred burned in her heart for the wrong he had done unto her, in making her his prisoner. Indeed, in those first days, no thought had she but of escape and of hatred, for her abductor.

After the first few months, however, her temper waned, somewhat (though her resentment waxed ever the hotter). For, she loved her sire above, even, her freedom; and she begged of Ādŏn leave to visit him, even if but once per annum. Though, this he stubbornly refused, even when she pledged, upon her very life, that she would return to him, if he but granted her such a humble boon.

Therefore, it may seem passing strange; yet, over the course of the many following years of confinement, Fīlän­lāa found herself, at length, growing less and less aggrieved by her gentle captor, who never tried to lay a hand upon her, against her will, and ever treated her with the respect of a goddess. For, he showed her only the greatest kindness and gave unto her everything her heart could desire, save only leave to go.

At whiles, he would allow Silverstar—under his strict escort—to walk barefoot upon the green grass of Le Mĭth­tĭm­brā­lōrnē, under bright star and spreading bough. But he did not suffer her to stray far; and, ever, she was made to return to their subterranean home, ere the rising of the sun.

Yea, and Ādŏn daily brought unto Fīlänlāa flowers at dawn, pastries and cakes, and strange and wonderful herbals in the forenoon, small love tokens, at midday, and sweet fruits at dusk, and adorned their abode with wondrously fashioned furnishing and crafted for her many fine rings of silver, to wear upon her delicate fingers, and crocheted for her marvelous dainty laces and wrought lovely necklaces to wear about her throat and cooked for her food, in the Drīăd Ĕlvăn fashion—prepared without meat (save for the raw flesh of fish), and spun for her gowns of silk and wove other rich and lovely raiment, with which to adorn herself, and was ever gracious to her and generous and gentle and caring and, above all, adoring.

Evenings, before the hearth, he told her stories of Dwär­văn lore and sang for her deep chants, in the KHWĀGĔNÜN Tongue, and spoke ever in praise of her exceeding beauty and wisdom. In the flickering firelight, he bared his thick arms to her and showed to her his many grave scars and recounted for her deeds of daring do; and, at her urging, he told her of the valor and renown he had won, in the Drăgōn Wars, eventually even admitting to her the greatest of the deeds that he had accomplished—that of having faced and wounded Tăm Tōrra, the great Black Drăgōn.

 

#

 

Then, one day, in the deeps of winter, while fishing upon a nearby frozen lake—at the behest of Fīlän­lāa, who had requested a meal of fresh fish, though the bitter end of winter was not yet come—Ādŏn fell through the thin ice and was nearly drowned but for the shallowness of the lake at the point where he had broken through.

Now, when Ādŏn returned to the cave that they shared, bedraggled, soaking wet, and half-frozen-to-death, with the stringer of fresh fish that Fīlän­lāa had requested, she rebuked him for his carelessness and would not touch the fish, for which he had hazarded the frozen lake and its thawing ice.

Needless to say, Ādŏn caught a chill from the ordeal and soon, thereafter, fell gravely ill and was forced to take to his bed.

 

#

 

Now, when several days had passed and Ādŏn’s condition had only worsened, it was clear that he would not recover without the treatment of Ĕlvăn medics, known only to the Drīăd of the Wood.

And lo, Fīlän­lāa wot precisely the remedy necessary to cure Ādŏn; but it was also one which would require her freedom to venture forth, alone, in order to collect the roots and herbs necessary to prepare the magical linctus and remedy.

Therefore, in came into Ādŏn’s heart to release Fīlänlāa from his control, knowing full-well that she might never return but having no other choice before him, save to condemn the one he loved to an eternal existence of imprisoned solitude, should he die with the secret of his crafty iron door’s release intact.

And so, he revealed to Fīlän­lāa the trick of the iron portal and its hidden release mechanism, that she might open the gates of her prison and venture forth… to save his life… or no.

But, ere she departed, he called her back to his bedside, once more, and further released her from his charge, forever, swearing that, should she return, he would, in no wise, ever more seek to keep her a prisoner, against her will. And he begged her forgiveness and wept with shame for what he had done, in having trammeled her thus, and wished that he might draw back the sands of time, that it were he had never offended her, yea, verily, even that he had never laid eyes upon her—the very act of which had compelled him, against his own wisdom and will, to capture her and keep her for himself, alone—an act he admitted knowing, from the onset, was most wicked, yea, even unforgivable.

Yet, he begged for her pardon, not wishing to die without it. And Fīlänlāa spake the words (though, in their hearts, each knew her utterance had been empty of meaning). Moreover, she would not promise to bring back his needed remedy, once she was free.

 

#

 

Now, lo! When Fīlän­lāa had departed, without oath or pledge of ever returning to that hateful cave, Ādŏn closed his eyes and waited, stoically, for the Animus Delver to collect him, (though he sorrowed much that there should be none to lay him in the ground and put heavy stones upon his corpse). And, he accepted this as small token against the many wickednesses he had performed, over the course of his long life, not the least grievous of which was the taking of a Wood-Daughter, against her will, thinking to make her his own treasured possession, as though she were a thing to be owned and not the freest of all living beings. And his heart was as empty as a coffer after a thief’s full plundering of all its precious contents.

 

#

 

Now, it came to pass that when Fīlän­lāa came forth into the bright light of day, she was so overjoyed that she wept. And, the curse in her heart fell not from her lips, at having been deprived her of her freedom, for so many lonely years.

It was a crisp morn, and a late spring snow still lay lightly upon the woodlands. Yet, at the feel of Vītălŭs’s warm smile upon her wan cheeks, Fīlänlāa soon betook herself to dancing with delight, leaping and twirling gaily through the snowy glades, free under the limbs of the Eastern Forest, once more. And, she sang blithely, as she had not done since first she had been abducted. (For, though her captor had oft hinted and hope for it, she had ever refused to bless him with the gifts of either her Ĕlvănsong or her Drīăd­dance.)

At length, Fīlän­lāa turned and fled for the house of her father, thinking never to look back.

But, when she came upon a field of winter tulips, whose bright scarlet heads were just peaking through the light blanket of new-fallen snow, she bethought herself of how Ādŏn had been wont to rise, each morn, ere her head had left her pillow, and gather for her an extravagant bouquet of wildflowers, in the spring- and summertime; cattails, in the fall; or a wreath of fragrant conifer boughs entwined with holly or mistletoe, in the moonths of winter, to set upon the table where he would prepare for her a breaking of the night’s fast.

And, she remembered, then, how the first sign of how truly ill Ādŏn had grown had been the morning after taking to his sick bed, when he had failed to bring, for her, his daily gift of freshly cut flora, yea, and indeed, for the first time in all the years that he had held her as his captive.

But, Fīlänlāa put such thoughts out of her head and eschewed any inkling of guilt at abandoning Ādŏn to his Fate. Until, she suddenly became aware of the weight of the necklace that she wore at her breast, as it danced against her rosy bosom as she ran towards her father’s home. It was one of Ādŏn’s many love tokens, a green gem, taken from his own ring, which he had set in a delicate silver fastening and hung from a chain he had wrought from silver wire he twined out of metal taken from melting down his own most beloved treasure—his belt buckle. (Indeed, many of the fine rings she wore, yet, upon her fingers and the bobbles that adorned her ears he had reworked from that single heirloom of his low household and had bestowed upon her as keepsakes of his undying love.)

All these, Fīlänlāa tore from about her neck and stripped from her wrists, fingers, and earlobes and cast into the snowy drifts of the field, about her.

And, she felt herself much lightened, as though they had been a heavy burden of weighty shackles and chains set upon her. And, her footsteps fell so lightly, then, that they left but little mark upon the melting snow.

Next, Fīlänlāa came upon the clearing where Ādŏn had been wont to bring her, on nights when the moon was new and the stars were at their brightest. There, at its center, was the ring of stones where he would build a great bonfire and dance, in a circle, about it, chanting, in his deep baritone voice, ancient Dwärvăn songs and dirges.

Then, standing in that glade, suddenly, and to her great surprise, Fīlän­lāa thought that she might miss the resonance of Ādŏn’s deep voice, when he intoned his Dwärvăn verses. And verily, against all reason, it grieved her heart at the thought that she would never again hear Ādŏn call her by his special Low Dwär­vĭsh name for her—Hī-Kē—or even by her given name, marred as he ever pronounced it, with his thick-tongued gruff voice and his harsh accent… and yet,… ever with love in the speaking thereof.

Again, Fīlänlāa berated herself for feeling kindly, in any wise, toward the one who had held her against her will, for so long. And she pushed herself onward, refusing to look back, in the direction of the cave in the-which she knew Ādŏn lay, even then, dying.

Soon, she came upon a lake, still frozen in the clutches of winter’s ice. And, as she sped lightly across its tenuous surface, it was not until she came upon its broken surface, and the hole therein, that she realized that she had stumbled upon the very spot were Ādŏn had fallen through, while catching fish for her ill-conceived supper.

There, she halted, gazing at the spot where her captor had nearly drown; and, with the special shadow-sense of the Wood Ĕlves—Sēsēstrē—she felt the recent past and knew, then, what she had not, afore, been told—that Ādŏn had remained, for some time, after his frigid plunge and harrowing ordeal, shivering in the snow as he lingered long enough to catch two more fish, that her meal might be a plentiful one and not a paltry token, only, with the solitary trout that he had caught, ere falling through the ice.

Then, Fīlänlāa imagined Ādŏn in his bed, alone, suffering, waiting silently to die; and great salt tears welled up in her eyes. And verily, she could not bring herself to abandon him. Whatever he had done, he had always been most generous to her; and he had never prejudiced her on account of her looks—the anomalous tinctures of her skin and hair—for the which even her own kindred had mistreated and shunned her; and she suddenly felt that she was also in his eternal debt, for all the unnumbered kindnesses that he has shown her in her captivity—his gifts of adoration, his loving words, his chivalrous treatment of her and forbearance, through the long years of unrequited longing, which he had most certainly (and nobly) endured without ever so much as laying a rough hand upon her bare shoulder. And she remembered how he had nightly brushed her flame-red hair, with one-and-a-thousand loving stokes and had never, once, demanded of her anything that he knew she was not willing to give unto him, and freely.

Near blinded by her tears, Fīlänlāa turned and raced back through the snow, each footfall filling the hole of what had been three strides, afore, long though they had been, in the joy of her unlooked-for liberation.

Into the cave of her former imprisonment, she raced, coming to Ādŏn’s side, fearful that she might, already, be too late to save him.

And lo! When Fīlänlāa burst into the tunnel where Ādŏn made his bedchamber, cold were his hands, his eyes closed, as in death; and no response did he make when she shook him.

So anxious had she been to look upon his face and to comfort him that, in her haste, she had forgotten to gather the roots and herbs she required to minister unto him.

“I have failed thee!” she wept, in Wood Ĕlvĭsh—“Ān Nōlä Lĕnāt Mān!” And a single tear fell upon his blue lips.

And, when it did so, Ādŏn’s eyes flew wide, with surprise and wonder, at her return.

And she fell into his arms, weeping and proclaiming her undying love for him.

Yet, in her sudden outburst of overwhelming adoration, Fīlänlāa spoke to Ādŏn only in Wood Ĕlvĭsh, so that he knew not her plighting words of devotion. And, therefore, he begged her to leave his side, forthwith, protesting that should he regain his strength he might fall, once more, into his former wickedness—even against his wish—and seek to keep her, again, a prisoner.

Then, Fīlänlāa realized that she had been expounding her love with words only that he did not ken. Hence, she spake to him, then, in unbroken Low Dwär­vĭsh (for the first time), professing to him that she was giving to him her heart, forever, and that in no way, more, could he trammel her; for he could not force her to stay if it were already her will to do so. And, no power in Ĭndrēl might, the-now, tear them asunder or entice her from his side.

And, as if it were a spell lifted from him, Ādŏn’s strength returned to him; and he took Fīlänlāa in his arms and near-crushed her with his mighty embrace. And he fondled her and made much of her; and she fawned upon him and laid her hand upon his hairy breast and ran her lithe fingers through the curly coarse hair, thereupon. And they pressed their lips together, in very deed, and it were a long while ere they broke that embrace and looked into one another’s eyes and found love requited, in each—dark Dwär­văn orbs and Ĕlvăn emerald greens.

And thus, it chanced, at length long, that Silverstar, First-sired, gave freely her heart unto Ādŏn Axe-Wielder, yea, in the spite of his rugged looks and in the spite of his venerable age and in the spite of his trespass upon her freedoms; for, at last, she saw him for who is was, indeed, a goodly and gentle fellow, at heart, who had loved her too much if not too well. And she loved him faithfully, ever thereafter.

Ādŏn, the Low Dwärf warrior, and Fīlän­lāa, the Drīăd Ĕlf-damsel, were never wed by Ēlfēā minister or KHWĀ­GĔNZKH chaplain, nor were they ever joined by kingly rite or formal ritual; but they lived happily together, as a couple, for the remainder of Ādŏn’s life.

And many a child Fīlän­lāa bore unto him, in their latter years, together; for Ādŏn lived to a ripe old age, indeed, and remained able of sight and limb and wit until his End, at two-of-hundreds-eighty-and-two years under the Mountain… and above it.

Now, the eldest three of Ādŏn’s and Fīlänlāa’s children were Lēbĕn­mālăn the Quick-Eyed, Dlĭth­ĕn­mā­lăn the Swift, and Cāth­ĕn­mā­lăn the Keen. These three, Silverstar bore as triplets.

Presently, they are called the Three Fathers of Men and are the progenitors of the Three Ancient Kingdoms of Man—Asärē, Asävō, and the Forgotten Realm.

This, all this, was in the years of the First Dră­gōn War. And, no love, afore nor since, hath matched, in passion or in depth, the loves of Mother Fīlänlāa and Father Ādŏn.

 

#

 

No tale tells what became of Fīlänlāa, after Ādŏn’s death; but one thing is certain: the world hath, since, been bereft of the greatest beauty ever to hath graced Ĭndrēl.

SMALL PRESS TO RELEASE LARGE BOOKS

Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes—a magical book with an unbelievable back-story

PRESS RELEASE:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 06/30/13

HOLLYWOOD, CA—In a world of 6-second movies, 140-char insights, and instant image sharing, what’s a 500-page novel to do? Michael Reed McLaughlin, author of the epic high fantasy series, The Hero Sagas, turned to Los Angeles-based indie publisher Rare Bird Books to help bring his decades-long creation to print.
McLaughlin spent over three decades writing his tale of a young hero coming of age, and decades developing the legendarium (the rich world) behind his epic novels… Or did he?
According to an imaginative back-story, McLaughlin was not so much writer of his books, as translator of a tome of crumbling leaves and ancient scrolls discovered in the secret base of a childhood treasure chest, purchased in the 1970s, along the Old Santa Fe Trail. He traced the parchment’s origins to the first Spanish Conquistadors to venture north of the Rio Grande 400 hundred years before, eventually learning to translate the previously unknown, pre-ancient writing systems and languages used by a mysterious wizard named Zorwind.
What McLaughlin has uncovered so far are enough tantalizing tales to fill three books with the story of Mitak of the Oakwood, a young man on the cusp of adulthood who, in Rüneglave: Sword of Heroes, Rüneguard: Shield of Heroes, and Rünehelm: Helmet of Heroes, must grow in body, mind, and spirit to be worthy of these ancestral talismans. He’s now begun the translation of a second trilogy—The Hero Within, which tells the tale of Mitak’s father, when he was an even younger boy, thrown into a series of harrowing quests of his own.
The first book of The Hero Sagas is due to launch in Fall 2014 at San Diego Comic-Con, along with a robust enhanced iBook edition that will enable the full range of its extraordinary complementary materials to be enjoyed. From the 30,000-word glossary and audio pronunciation guide, to 3D renderings of the castles and caverns, weaponry and wizard’s spellbooks, to theme music, coats of arms, language dictionaries, genealogy charts, etc., etc., all will be vividly rendered in an Enhanced Reading Experience iBooks Edition that brings the book from the page to the fingertips in a way not yet experienced in the fantasy genre.
To fund this elaborate iBook Edition, a Kickstarter Campaign launched June 30, 2013 and will run for 30 days, culminating at the close of this year’s Comic-Con, a fitting bookend to the most recent turn of this remarkable story’s path—from Pre-European civilization to cutting edge 21st-century technology.

# # #

Saving Epic Fantasy Books 200,000+ Words at a Time: Big Publishing’s Attempt to Stifle the World’s Most Popular Genre

There is a certain magical sub-genre of fantasy fiction called “Epic Fantasy” or “High Fantasy.” According to Wikipedia, the term “epic” derives from “the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot.” I would argue that it must also be epic in scope (which I will argue has some correlation to length). Certainly, I would not argue that it need be more than some arbitrarily fixed number of words, (although writers in this sub-genre generally tend to write lengthy tomes—the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan are some good examples); nevertheless, the work must be substantive, as with an “epic poem” or an “epic film.” One would hardly call a short story, that otherwise would fit the definition, an epic fantasy short story; it would better be refereed to as simply a short story in high fantasy genre.

Inherent in the nature of epic fantasy is the implicit promise that behind the colorful facade of mythical/fairyland characters and settings, lie deep truths that ring so true they can transcend imagined other worlds to shed light upon our own. From Homer, on down through the ages, the great bards of epic lore have told tales about giants, pixies, sorcerers, and monsters not because they can tell us anything about how we might deal with such creatures when encountered in the subway, at a park, or in the local post office but specifically because these Goliaths, Tinkerbells, Merlins, and Smaugs are representative of epic themes we all face in the real world—bullies, innocents, sages, and corporate/political/etc. juggernauts.

In epic fantasy, the reader is so immersed in the magical world(s) created by its author, that he begins to gimps a gestalt of epic proportion (excuse the pun). The truths of Middle Earth ring true, eternal and relevant here, now, and forever—the horror of war, the threat of tyranny, the power of believing in oneself, no matter how small or insignificant seeming, and so forth. When read carefully (and sometimes even casually), an epic fantasy novel will change the reader and his worldview. He will no longer be able to see our world—in terms of race, religion, humanity, or any of a myriad other issues an author of epic fantasy might chose to explore—in exactly the same way as he saw it before beginning on page one.

I recently sent out a series of query letters for literary agents and was shocked by some of their responses. One’s entire response was: “Your book theme sounds interesting. I can tell you, however, that your word counts will be an immediate deal breaker for almost all publishers (and therefore, agents). For any author who doesn’t already have a known track record, anything over 100k will be a near-certain reject. Can’t help you here.” And, he wasn’t the only one to insist as much. Granted, I am not a Tolkien, Brooks, Martin, or Jordan (yet); but the manuscript I was submitting was a substantial 40,000 words less than The Sword of Shannara and 75,000 words less than either A Game of Thrones or The Eye of the World, each the first book in its respective series (one, the author’s first published book).

But you say, “The times, they are a’chang’n.” “Things just don’t work that way, anymore. New authors almost never get manuscripts over 100,000 words published.” Nevertheless, it seems unfortunate, to me, that the publishing industry has decided for the rest of us readers and writers that “short and to the point” is always better (in fact, requisite). As with the modern plagues of the sound bite and Wikipedia summary, in place of in-depth news reporting and primary source research, we are told that our modern attention spans simply can’t handle substantive input, let alone “epic.” If publishers could get $25 for a hardcover “tweet,” I’m certain they would be thrilled and determined to limit all subsequently published books to 140 characters or less. And, that makes good financial sense.

But, it seems strange to me that there should be so much pressure to produce shorter epic fantasy novels, especially in a time when the “cost” of publishing a book has dropped so precipitously that anyone with an Amazon account can produce a hefty book of 500 pages for around $8.50 plus markup ($0.015 per page plus $0.90 per cover). And, that price can be achieved for a one-off on expensive paper; when printing by the thousands of copies per run, it must certainly be far less expensive for traditional publishers.

On top of that, this is at the same time that so many of the most successful epic fantasy series are among the most “epic.” Just look at The Lord of the Rings—half-a-million words; Harry Potter (although not strictly “epic fantasy”)—over one million words in the series; The Dark Tower—a-million-and-a-quarter; A Song of Ice and Fire—one-and-three-quarter-million words and still going strong; and then, there’s The Wheel of Time—over four million words long, some books in the series almost 400,000 words in length.

I call it a case of not only throwing out the baby with the bathwater but throwing out the basin, as well. Even as epic fantasy is becoming increasingly more and more popular among the general reading (and formerly non-reading, as exemplified by the huge numbers of young Potter fans introduced to the idea of reading the story rather than passively watching it unfold before their eyes) public, there is intense pressure to change one of the fundamental elements that make such books so popular—the utterly immersive and compelling world-building that is achieved by the very nature of their epic sizes.

I can almost imagine an editor at St Martins or Random House imposing a limit on latest edition of The Bible of “no more than 100,000 words, if you please; and that should include the Old and New Testaments… In fact, can’t we get the sequel’s message across with just the words: ‘Turn the other cheek.’ Why, just last week we combined the latest editions of The Iliad and The Odyssey into a 50,000 word novella simply by ‘economizing’ the poetry.”

I don’t know whether the books in my own epic fantasy series, The Hero Sagas, will be best sellers or not; they won’t start to roll out until Spring of 2014. But whether they are eventually published by one of the “Big Six” (soon to be “Five”), stay with the small independent press printing Book One, Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes, or whether subsequent volumes are self-published, I will continue to write them as though people really do want to read epic tales of epic deed wrought by epic heroes and told in epic form.

Title treatment for Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes